Salvos rebuked for not adopting 'rigorous' procedures

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Salvos rebuked for not adopting 'rigorous' procedures

The Salvation Army has been admonished for not following 'rigorous' procedures before it sacked a store manager for alleged misconduct.

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The Salvation Army has been admonished for not adopting 'rigorous' procedures before dismissing a store manager for alleged misconduct.

Accused of theft


A Salvos Stores manager, Ms W, was fired on 4 August 2016 after it was alleged she had not recorded a $200 sale of furniture or put the cash in the register. However, no sale actually took place.

Mr S had attended the store on Saturday 23 July 2016 with the intent of buying furniture. Ms W made notes in a docket book of what he wanted to buy and put “delivery” stickers on the items he picked.

But Mr S did not actually buy anything. He asked Ms W if she would be at work on Monday and she said "no" as it was her day off. Mr S said he would return on Monday.

Ms W added up the value of the items he wanted, wrote a price of $200, ripped out that page from the docket book and gave it to him. She said he could pay for the goods on Monday.

When Mr S returned on Monday he told staff he had arrived to pick up furniture he claimed he had paid for on Saturday. He produced the ripped-out page from the docket as if it were a receipt.

He alleged Ms W did not give him a proper receipt because the store was too busy at the time. Mr S pointed out the items he wanted to the store duty manager, who observed the furniture had stickers on them. The name of Mr S was written on the stickers which were marked for “delivery”. But there was nothing else on the stickers.

Suspicious


The duty store manager was suspicious and rang the area manager. The area manager expressed his concern that a customer had a hand-written docket but no receipt for a furniture sale. He decided to investigate the incident and began by reviewing the store’s CCTV recording from the previous Saturday.

What the recording showed


CCTV showed Ms W attending to several customers. Part way through the recording, it is clear Ms W was holding a single $50 note (it was revealed in evidence that the area manager mistakenly thought the single $50 note was four $50 notes). Eventually, she folded the note along with some pieces of white paper (later found to be delivery notices), all of which she put in her apron pocket. Meanwhile, as she was walking about the store, she consulted various books/ledgers.

Ms W later said in evidence that the $50 was payment for a delivery from a different customer and nothing to do with Mr S. She added that, for efficiency purposes, it was her standard practice to put a delivery-notice and delivery-money in her apron pocket to give to a driver making a delivery.

Investigation


The area manager then met with Ms W to discuss the incident. Ms W said she did not take any money, there was no sale, the docket given to Mr S was merely to put the items on hold and the CCTV would show she never took any money.

She added that the area manager should ring Mr S who would confirm that he did not pay. The area manager did not tell Ms W that he had already viewed the CCTV. Ms W was given an opportunity to see the CCTV but this was on a small laptop and she had poor eyesight. 

The area manager rang Mr S who repeated his claim that he had paid $200 for the furniture and that Ms W was too busy to give him a proper receipt.

A meeting was then held between Ms W, the area manager and a human resources manager on 4 August 2016. Ms W was given the opportunity to respond to the allegations and was advised she could have a support person present.

The area manager then made the decision to dismiss. In a letter to Ms W, he stated her employment was being terminated owing to “serious misconduct” as the $200 was not processed through the cash register and the customer was not given a “correct register docket” for his purchase.

Did the alleged misconduct occur?


Senior deputy president Hamberger cited previous cases showing that when misconduct is alleged then the Commission must decide whether the misconduct actually took place. The Commission must not make a decision on whether the employer reasonably believed the misconduct took place. 

He added that while the Commission is required to apply the civil standard of proof of the “balance of probabilities”, it must not rely on “inexact proofs, indefinite testimony, or indirect inferences” when deciding whether something actually happened or not.

SDP Hamberger then ruled it was “clear that the applicant was dismissed for theft.” He then found no evidence had been provided to the Commission that Mr S had made any payment at all. The CCTV evidence only showed that Ms W had folded a single $50 note and put it in her apron.

“There is nothing to suggest that the 50 dollar note came from [Mr S]. The applicant has a plausible alternative explanation of where the $50 came from,” he said.

SDP Hamberger also noted that the company claimed Ms W had received $200, “indeed, [the area manager] believed incorrectly that the CCTV footage showed [Ms W] with four $50 notes”.

He concluded that he was being asked by the company, which had provided no direct evidence, to rely on “indirect inferences such as the fact that the applicant had money in her hands at some point”.

SDP Hamberger was satisfied Ms W did not receive any money from Mr S, therefore there was no misconduct and, accordingly, there was no valid reason for dismissal.

He said he had “no hesitation” in finding the dismissal unjust and unreasonable.

Rigorous procedures not followed


SDP Hamberger noted the employer had access to human resources expertise. He said the company should be expected to “adopt rigorous procedures… I am not satisfied that it did so.”

He added that it would have been preferable if Ms W had been given a “better opportunity” to examine the CCTV recording.

And, he said, the “alacrity” with which the company accepted the word of Mr S over that of a long-standing employee (she had been employed for more than 11 years) was “certainly surprising”.

Ms W did not want to be reinstated and so SDP Hamberger awarded her compensation of $22,404 (less tax). 

W V Salvation Army [2017] FWC 32 (16 January 2017)


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